Decades ago, I saw a big ad in a Manila newspaper that featured jubilant college graduates tossing their caps in the air. Right down to the bottom says, “Computers are the Future. Enroll Now!” It was an ad for a school that claims to have pioneered computer education in the Philippines. Interestingly enough, it’s also the school where the notorious “I LOVE YOU” virus, which caused an estimated $10 billion in damages worldwide, originated.
As a computer geek, I told myself, “Whoa, a school that specializes in computers!” That’s enough for me to leave the University of Santo Tomas, a top university in the country, in favor of the niche school. I immediately applied and took the entrance exam, which I passed with flying colors. Not to mention bragged about it to all my friends.
As it turned out, the niche for-profit school wasn’t that great, and it probably had 99% acceptance rate— many of my classmates were rejects from other schools, including UST. But just the same, obtaining my bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering was worth it. Now that I live and work in America, where I landed in a relatively high-paying job, the return on investment or ROI is enormous.
But not so much if you’re seeking a degree here in the states, where private education is ridiculously expensive. Compared to what you would pay here, my parents paid peanuts. So make no mistake: your career is your number one financial asset. You don’t want to spend $100,000 to major in Philosophy or Gender Studies and expect to become a millionaire before 50.
Top millionaire careers
Based on one of the largest survey of millionaires, a Reader’s Digest article compiled a list of top careers and their average salaries, where you could sock away a million by the time you retire— many of them don’t even require advanced degrees!
- Engineer (Civil, Mechanical or Industrial), $87005
- Certified public accountant, $70500
- Teacher (Elementary, Middle school, High school), $59050
- Human resources manager, $110120
- Software developer, $103620
- Computer and information research scientist, $114520
- Information security analyst, $98350
- Sales manager (General, Technology), $130935
- Dental hygienist, $74820
- Genetic counselor, $80370
- Physical therapist, $87930
- Mathematician, $101900
- Database administrator, $90070
- Statistician, $87780
What about doctors and lawyers?
Noticeably absent on the RD list are doctors and lawyers. It could be because it’s actually easier to become a millionaire than to establish a career in either professions. All it takes is a decent income, frugality, discipline to invest, and a lot of patience. You don’t need a six figure income to become a millionaire.
It’s no coincidence, teachers ended up #3 on the list. If you earn a modest income, you are more likely to stay within the budget and not succumb to lifestyle creep. In contrast, doctors and lawyers are pressured by their peers and society to blow their income on large mansions, fancy cars, fine dining, and expensive vacations.
According to Ramsey Solutions, “The people in the study became millionaires by consistently saving over time. In fact, they worked, saved and invested for an average of 28 years before hitting the million-dollar mark, and most of them reached that milestone at age 49.”
Tips on how to maximize ROI
From the above list, notice that the highest paying jobs are STEM-based careers except Sales and HR manager, neither of which are dream jobs— not many 10-year-olds will tell you they wanted to become either when they grow up.
The key to maximizing ROI is to pick the highest paying career that you can learn to love and spend the least amount of money pursuing it. Just like buying a car, you want to shop around so you can go to a college that you can afford. The less you pay for college, the higher is your return on investment.
The cost of tuition and fees at private colleges is typically much higher than the cost at public institutions. The average cost of tuition and fees is $25,000 higher compared to what you’re going to pay for an in-state public institution. You’d save a ton of money by simply attending a public institution in your state.
There are many other ways that you can save money, among them:
- Taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes could be credited in college. My eldest son did this, and it allowed him to finish his Computer Science degree one semester early.
- Consider living with your parents while attending college. It’s not worth going deeply into debt just so you can party. Think about the savings you could make on room and board!
- Community colleges are looked down on by some as a loser school. But if you spend the first two years in one and transfer the credits to a real college you can be proud of— you’ll come out as a winner!
- You don’t always need to borrow for college. It pays to have excellent academic credentials. Make sure you apply for scholarships, internships, etc. to help pay for tuition and other expenses.
- If you’re a parent, the best vehicle to use is a 529 account and use it to invest in stock index funds. The earlier you start the more time your investment can grow. I started when my kids were babies, now almost half of the balance is pure gains!
Unless you’ve inherited a big fortune, there’s no financial asset bigger than your career. The best paying careers are the ones that require a degree. You can expect to earn about 60 percent more during your entire working life than the typical high school graduate in the same period.
Picking the right career is far more important than picking the right school. I’m a testament to this. I went to a no-name school in the far east (prior to the spread of the computer virus), and still ended up earning six figures— bumping shoulders with highly indebted Ivy league graduates!